The bizarre Kosovo Central Library

  The history of the construction of the library in Kosovo can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. In 1513, the Ottoman Empire invaded Kosovo and established the first library. Four centuries later, in 1912, the Albanians of Kosovo finally won their independence and Kosovar culture was revived. However, before the victory of World War II, due to the political environment, Kosovo had always been subordinate to a stronger country, so it was unable to maintain and develop its own cultural identity and social institutions, and the construction and expansion of cultural institutions such as the Kosovo library also stagnated , the original cultural treasures also suffered serious damage.
  In 1944, the city of Prizren established the first regional public library in Kosovo. Although it was only a municipal library at first, it is the most important comprehensive library in Kosovo. Later, Pristina became the capital of Kosovo, and the Prizren Library also moved here, and gradually changed its name according to the transformation of Kosovo’s political status. It was renamed the Kosovo Central and University Library twice in 1999 and the Kosovo Central Library in 2014.
  The Kosovo Central Library, also known as the Peter Bogdani Library, which stands in front of the public today, was completed and opened in the 1980s. As the central library of Kosovo, it is not famous for its long history and treasures of literature, nor for its smart technology or pleasant environment, but for its bizarre architectural design. Although the Kosovo Central Library is a symbol of Kosovo’s pursuit of cultural knowledge, it was selected as one of the “30 ugliest buildings in the world” by the British “Daily Telegraph”.
overall design concept

  In 1970, Croatian architect Andrea Mutjakovic participated in the library architectural design competition held in Sarajevo and presented his design concept. A year later, he was commissioned by the director of the library in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, to undertake an important project, the design of a central-level library. The mission of this library is to collect, preserve, publicize and provide documentary resources and intellectual heritage about Kosovo, as well as to carry out exhibition activities, which will be an important milestone in the cultural history of Kosovo, with practical significance.
  When the library was completed, there were many controversies, but the main controversy stemmed from its unique architectural design. The entire library is composed of many huge cubic concrete blocks, which are scattered in a well-proportioned way. The top of each block is covered with white domes of different sizes, and the outer facade is covered by a series of irregular metal grids, like fences one by one. Covered bars. Although the function of the library and the nature of the librarians is to attract more readers, this public library is like a huge prison, and its external image seems to hardly attract people to come here for social and cultural education.
  People criticize it as one of the ugliest buildings in Kosovo, but it is undoubtedly a unique architectural project that has successfully attracted the attention of the world’s architectural and cultural circles, and has also become a popular tourist attraction for tourists. Although the design is unusual and brutalistic, it is also future-proof in many ways. The design of this project is a unique expression of Croatian architecture in the context of former Yugoslavia. Its various elements have the imprint of Dutch structuralism, as well as the ideas of architects Aldo van Eyck and Herman Herzberg. The white dome, which resembles the men’s hat in Kosovar’s national dress, combined with the cubic modules, places the library in the middle of the conflict between tradition and modernity, native and foreign. At the same time, the architectural form is both Byzantine and Islamic, and the strategy of repetition and mutation is introduced in the architectural structure. The design also captures the style of a war-torn area and strives to show the forward movement and peaceful reconstruction. the spirit of.
  Designer Andrea Mutjakovic made an official statement about the style of the Kosovo Central Library, calling it a combination of contemporary structural art and postmodernism, which also incorporates Balkan influences for a modern and vernacular purpose. Traditional elements of pre-Peninsular Romanesque architecture. Some people in the art world have extended the meaning of architectural design, thinking that this building is a response to the objectification of the International Style, an attempt to combine modern media with regional traditions and rural architecture, and it is also a modern style. Metabolic style. Another statement close to the political and religious circles is that the architectural project aims to reconcile the relationship between the Serbs and the Albanians, emphasizing that it embodies the combination of the existing Turkish baths and Pécs Monastery in the city of Prizren.
Space Design and Structural Function

  The Kosovo Central Library presents a contemporary application of the architectural inspirations indigenous to the people of Kosovo through compact structural forms such as cubes, hemispheres and cylinders. These numerous three-dimensional spaces constitute the functional area of ​​the library. On the basis of these three-dimensional spaces, the designer Mutjakovic also created and developed the concept of the second space, that is, in a spacious space, through isolation or blocking, to create an exclusive space for readers. Because he believes that readers can focus better if they are in a more private space.
  Behind the appearance of these three-dimensional space modules that reflect history and modernity, there are some lesser-known phenomenological features. According to Mutjakovic’s explanation, the cubes covered by the dome are quiet and neutral, and they all face the center of the building. Slightly introverted, it embodies philosophical connotations such as reflection on personal experience and cohesive force in reading. Mutanjakovic also took a critical attitude towards extreme modernism. He admitted that the regional paths of internationalization and localization in the modernist movement had certain origins, and found a new solution to the unity of the modernist movement from the perspective of localism. method. After expounding on the concept of space, Mutjakovic introduced that his work places great emphasis on evoking a strong sensory impact, such as clear water, light, shadow and texture, which are all resources that can generate stimulation and excitement.
  When the building is presented in front of you, the most impressive thing is its unique architectural form. It is reported that when it was opened, people even thought that the metal grid on the outside of the building was the scaffolding that had not been dismantled, which was ironic. But because of the historical relevance of the building itself and its new interpretation using new technologies and materials, the style has also been viewed very differently. Although reception was mixed at first, the building is now regarded as an outstanding example of Yugoslavian late modernism and is one of the most popular public spaces in the neighbourhood.

Kosovo Central Library

  The building area of ​​the library is 16,500 square meters, with 8 floors, 3 of which are underground. The cellar, about 8 meters above the ground, is located at the bottom of the building, surrounded by several rooms with fire doors and other security measures, because many valuable books are stored in the cellar. The books can be transported via a mechanical conveyor belt to the central space with an elevator, and of course librarians can also access the cellars via stairs.
  Above the cellar is the basement. The basement undertakes many supporting service functions of the library, such as mechanical heating, ventilation ducts, air-conditioning systems, emergency generators, condensers, etc. The technical staff offices, storage rooms, and utility rooms are also located here. There is a loading platform that allows vehicles to access the basement via a ramp.

  The first floor is the gate entrance. After entering, there are service areas and office areas. The former includes public reception facilities such as restaurants, bars, buffet areas, kitchens, and toilets, while the latter includes offices, laboratories, and bookbinding rooms. In addition, areas such as communication center and meeting room are set on the first floor, and the most eye-catching space is a double-height hall, which is mainly used to hold various cultural activities. Its floor and dome are made of various marbles. It is laid or inlaid with mosaics, and it is extremely conspicuous under the irradiation of natural light.
  There are two large reading rooms with a total of 400 seats on the second floor, which are newspaper reading room and natural science reading room. There are also two amphitheatres, the larger one with 150 seats and the smaller one with 75 seats, whose main function is to carry out public cultural, educational or scientific activities. There are also small rooms used as professional collections, cataloging and research rooms. Meeting rooms, offices, and some small reading rooms are located on the third floor, where balconies extend out to overlook the public atrium. The fourth floor is mainly the librarian’s office and some small reading rooms. The fifth floor is similar to the fourth floor, but occupies a slightly smaller area and is all set up as administrative offices.
  The main function of these domes is to provide natural light to the reading rooms and other work areas, among other uses as well. Their design is not only distinctive from the outside, but also a unique decoration from the interior space. Because the main area of ​​the interior space is the reading area, readers need to maintain a high degree of concentration here, so a quiet, compact, introverted space with clear content will have a benign impact on readers’ intelligence and body. Based on this consideration, the hemispherical dome architectural form and modeling treatment is the most modern and idealized solution.
  In terms of structural form, the building is clearly conceived with a rigorous geometric approach. The main body of the building is based on a square plan, and the overall shape is a regular cube. The solid reinforced concrete structure is completely covered by a huge metal grid, which also plays a role in sun protection. Although influenced by historical factors in terms of structural form, there is no doubt that it is more inclined to be a modern work, and the architect also justly combines traditional and modern elements. For example, the dome is based on the traditional space model, but the concept of its structure and technology is derived from Buckminster Fuller’s “geodesic dome”, which is also one of the symbols of modernist utopia.
  The architects graded the privacy of the spaces by using basic modules of different proportions, and emphasized this principle by providing different types of reading areas at different levels. Each program-specific reading area has a matching design and location, and they all revolve around the library’s geometric and symbolic core, the public atrium.
  Due to the complex architectural form and numerous domes covering the individual cubes throughout the building, the roof is one of the most complex areas of construction, and drainage issues are also related to architectural design. Each dome is drained independently and in two ways: the highest ceiling drains through drains located on the side walls of the outdoor structure towards the lower ceilings; the lower ceilings lead drains to several Ten vertical drains that carry water out of the building and mechanically into the city’s stormwater system.

library entrance

  In terms of building materials, architects were often forced to experiment and design with existing components due to the lack of more complex prefabricated components in Croatia and the former Yugoslavia at the time. Constructed primarily of cast-in-situ concrete, marble floors and white plastered walls, the building’s dome is made of triangular panels of translucent acrylic joined to an aluminum frame. Mutjakovic has used new materials to evoke the inspiration of the ancient building, in particular the exterior metal grid that can be interpreted as a fishing net or veil, allegorically referring to the two main religions of the region. The metal grids were made in a foundry in the Krapina-Zagorje region of Croatia using the age-old technique of casting aluminum, with around 70,000 molds. The age-old technique could enable metal coatings to work like a lightweight solar system, as its grainy, textured surface dampens reflections.
  Like all other components, the design of the furniture and finishes within the library is very important. Because only the exterior and interior design concepts can be unified, it can be called a “complete whole”. All furniture was designed by the architect and manufactured in a renowned workshop in Urosevac, Kosovo. The architect team designed different types of furniture according to the designed area and usage, bookshelves, tables and chairs in the reading room, coffee tables, reception desks, cabinets in the reception area, armchairs, office cabinets in the office area, seats, hangers in the auditorium , Amphitheater and other architectural decorations are uniformly made of wood.
Social value

  The Kosovo Central Library is located in the middle of a pleasant green area next to the University of Kosovo Pristina, one of the few places that resembles a public park in the city center. To the north and south of it are the teaching buildings of the university, to the west is the public TV station building, and to the east is the Kosovo Central Art Museum. In such a dense cultural atmosphere, the social functions of the library can be better displayed. Officials further pointed out that the construction of the Kosovo Central Library is the highest expression of Kosovo’s national architecture and cultural beliefs, expressing the confidence of the Kosovo people in trying to achieve a bright future through education.
  In the history of this building, there have been catastrophes. During the Kosovo War (1998-1999), Croatian and Bosnian refugees used it as a residence, and the Serbian army used it as a command center. Many historical books were destroyed during this period. While the building’s interior was damaged during the war, its exterior was spared, setting the stage for rebuilding the collection in peacetime after the war. At present, there are more than 2 million library collections in the library, including books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, photos and other precious materials. At the same time, there are historical materials from the Ottoman Empire, the Yugoslavia period and the Kosovo War to the present.
  But in recent years, the building has begun to show signs of aging and has attracted international attention. A team of conservation experts, with support from the Getty Foundation, researched, analyzed and evaluated every aspect of the building, including consultations with the designers. Their research thoroughly documented the building’s past and current condition and nominated it for the highest class of listed buildings. In the future, after planning and protection, the Kosovo Central Library will become a model for the protection of modern cultural buildings in the region.

aerial view of the library

  The Kosovo Central Library has many potential and important meanings for different groups. It is the most important repository of knowledge in the region and a central place of learning for generations, a showcase of Kosovo’s history and a symbol of Kosovo’s culture. Due to its location in the center of Pristina and the center of the university campus, it has a high social value and has become a gathering place for the people of Kosovo, where many important activities start.
  Libraries have traditionally been viewed as “human memory”, playing a vital role in preserving the past and advancing knowledge, thinking and culture. Umberto Eco once said: “Libraries are one of the most important ways to maintain collective wisdom.” Libraries, especially public libraries at the central level, are crucial to protecting the knowledge and history of a country or region. Despite years of political turmoil, Kosovo is now making major strides toward European integration and its cultural scene is coming back to life. The Kosovo Central Library can now focus on modernization, which is the will of Kosovo’s leaders and librarians.